Navigating Our Economy With Grace: An Artist’s View In A Letter To An Old Friend

She Opens the Door - Painting By Shiloh Sophia McCloud

She Opens the Door - Painting By Shiloh Sophia McCloud

Dear Sweet Old Friend of Mine,

Today you asked me how I was doing. How was my life, my business? How has the economy affected my art? You told me you felt horrible and scared and mad. I wasn’t sure what to say, my desire to reach out and hug you was all I could think of. I wanted to do more for you, to make you feel better, but I found I didn’t have the language to respond. I found that optimism felt false, but that doomsday was also untrue. I did not want to commiserate but I also did not want to chide you for being so down by acting like “it’s all good”. I felt a desire to share possibility with you but no words sounded right. I realized that with my own busy-ness I hadn’t found my language yet for what was called “a recession” exactly one year ago right now. We were in the midst of opening a new gallery when the headlines foretold of the impending doom. Remember, you thought we were crazy? We moved forward anyhow – knowing that the world needed beauty, and healing. And so did we. After speaking with you, I realized it is time I found something to say to you, to all of us, about who I am choosing to be during our current times. Thank you for getting me to do this work – your depression served as a catalyst, see, sometimes even depression brings good things! Just ask an artist or poet if they get good work done while they are blue. The answer is yes. Because artists are alchemists. And today, after hanging up with you, I was kind of depressed myself. So, here is what I came forward.

Who Are We Going to Be?

You asked me: What do I think about “the economy”

I have a strange notion to embrace our economy.  A mystical sense that to navigate these changes with grace will require deep love and profound creativity. Not regret or blame. While at every turn, fear is present with the “what if’s” it has always used to leverage itself into our lives. Each day, I face fear with paintbrush and pen in hand and kindly reply, “I have no need of your stories, but, thank you for reminding me to pay attention”  To choose not to submit, when fear, regret, blame, shame and other not-so-kind frequencies have been laced into the air by the unseen hands of doom sayers– well, it takes courage. But be courageous we must!

You asked if I had been following the news – and/or what a lot of the religious folks are saying about our current world.

I do not wish to be blind to what is occurring. Whether we “believe” there is enough, or “believe” we are running out – kind of doesn’t matter since they are both true. We know scarcity is an illusion – but knowing that does not make it go away in the world – but it does make it go away in our mind – because we choose not to live in the version of scarcity being sold. It costs way to much.

You indicated, that perhaps I didn’t know how bad things really were, otherwise I would be as mad as you.

I do not have to follow the news moment by moment to learn that people I love cannot go to the dentist, or make this month’s car payment or pay for their child’s day care. For me to tell them they need to change their thinking because everything they need is right here if they will just open themselves to the flow of abundance, is not my style. Even if that were true, there are other ways we can speak to those in trouble – and in my experience, it is not telling them they aren’t thinking good enough thoughts. But I can offer another perspective, and it is my mother who taught perspective way back in the hard times of childhood – she showed me how to see what was going on for what it was – and not to make it mean something about me, personally. In short, take on the challenge, but don’t “take it on” as baggage that would need to be sorted out later.

No matter what anyone says, I don’t think we know what things are going to look like as this economic journey unfolds. I know that people cannot find work easily. I know that other people are getting rich. I know that people are losing their homes. I know others are buying them up. People are unable to give the way they used to. Others are giving more than ever.  The reason why I think it cannot be predicted is because regardless of the numbers, the “experts” cannot predict who we will be during this process. The experts don’t know who we are – we are not numbers or consumers – we are people, citizens of spaceship earth. And people in hard times past have many times chosen generosity over hoarding. Patience over panic. Longevity over immediacy. Who will we choose to be this time around?

Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours. – Richard Bach

You said you felt ashamed to be an American, and bad about the way you, and we have been behaving. But it didn’t come across like a confession, but a condemnation.

They are plenty of ways, and good reasons to blame ourselves. And if we are awake we have each taken a look at our respective “footprints”. My heart felt heavy and I invited you to find a new way to be with whatever shame you had –  as shame was not motivating, actually it is an oppressor. I told you there was another way, and that just because we have been bad at a lot of things, we don’t have to feel bad for being a part of the grand experiment we call America. We do have to wake up more and more however. And I am all for the grand awakening!

We are Americans. We have lived fast. Dreamed hard. Hoped big. Used much. Taken risks. Used what did not belong to us. Went on midnight sprees of destruction. And said, we will deal with it later, there is time. Now we are hearing there is not enough time, not enough resources, and we are being forced to take account and pay up in various ways. But only one question really lingers for me which will determine the outcome  – Who are we going to be?  We have also played hard, been visionary, created opportunities, explored the moon, and done more humanitarian things as a people than can be counted. There is no question we are amazing. And short sighted. But only one question really lingers for me which will determine the outcome  – Who are we going to be? Who are you going to be?

Hopefully, we will be gracious co-designers of a future of which we can one day say:

“LOVE was the motivating force within all of our choices.”

Imagine that?! Will you imagine what that looks like with me?

A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist
and evolutionary strategist. Buckminster Fuller

You said it was too late to be optimistic, when it was so clear that we were doomed. You said the world you lived in was at war and that I was in denial.

Everything You Read In The Instructions May Not Be True

I went to sleep last night after we spoke, thinking about what I could have said but didn’t. Thinking about our economy and my role in how to create it as positive and enriching for myself and others. For you. In my dream I was using one of those money counting machines at the supermarket. I brought my coins in to be changed into paper money.  I poured it in. In a moment of panic, I realize I had not read the instructions before I put the change in – and so I did not understand which button to press to get it to come out as cash. Then, in unreasonable haste I pressed the most obvious button – and heard the sound of change clinking and I felt relieved. But what came out of the shoot was soundless white felt discs. Lots of them. Hundreds. All different sizes.

I had pressed the wrong button, the biggest button. The buttons all had symbols which I did not understand, but since the purpose of that machine was to translate my money into paper money – wouldn’t it be the biggest most obvious button? No. Was it a trick? Many machines and systems I observed in that moment, are designed to bank on us not paying close enough attention.  Our economy, I mused there in dreamland, might have been built upon such assumptions that we were too busy and twitter distracted to press the right button at the right time. Staring the machine in that unfriendly neon light, I looked and found I could not even understand the instructions well enough to figure out what I had done wrong in order to solve it. They weren’t written to be understood. Here is what I got:

Read directions, but don’t always believe them. Don’t assume whatever it is, is designed for your best interest. Don’t be scared into making quick decisions. Research on the options. Count my money myself. Don’t put my wealth, physical, spiritual, mental or emotional, into the machine for counting and assessing.

Now there is one outstanding important fact regarding spaceship earth,
and that is that no instruction book came with it. Buckminster Fuller

And so, who will I be as a player in this grand unfolding story called Our Economy? I wanted to call you back and tell you something new and positive, something to keep you going, but I didn’t have the words yet. So I kept searching. Kept painting, and kept asking myself questions.

What shall I design? What will we design as a people? Is healing possible? No matter what “they” say – can we have peace on earth?

I know for sure, that I refuse to use the language the media is offering. This is not a recession – which implies that previous to recession there was what? Yes, we have enjoyed much abundance in this country – but the cost we were paying to our lives and our planet was being counted moment by moment against us.  A recession is a general slowdown of economic activity over a period of time – or from the latin “gone back.”

I will not use that word as I do not believe that is what is REALLY HAPPENING. I can’t say I know what is really happening, but since it feels strangely orchestrated – recession is far too mild – and it sounds non-committal, like a random weather report we have no part in it – like: a storm may be passing through the area tomorrow night if the coastal fog doesn’t lift…Maybe it is – maybe it isn’t. But whatever this state is we have created and found ourselves at cause and effect for – there is something we can do – even without knowing more about the root cause. I don’t blame you for wanting to know who is to blame -I am mad too – I just know that my anger must translate into art or I will become bitter.

You accused me of magical thinking. I was defensive at first, but then wondered if you were right. That is when I got quiet.

Now, I am all for positive thinking – but I am not really for magical thinking as a way to live. As a way to explore and search out ideas -YES- but not to live by.  I like to acknowledge what I see, first – see it for as close to what it is as I am able to grasp  – and then choose who and how I shall approach that thing –  as that is what is mine to do. I cannot always change the state of the world, sometimes I can, but I can always change my approach and adjust it to meet the course that best serves humanity, and my own life vision. We know that how we live in our life, spend our dollars, the food we eat and the way we move through the world, does impact, and we can choose to adjust that now, and as we move forward into our future. It’s true, I am a rebel, and as an entrepreneur, I have the privilege of already being outside of many of the systems, but I invite everyone I know to do everything they can, to think their own thoughts, and not buy into the system’s solutions being sold by big business.

“No I don’t prefer obscurity, but I’m an idealistic girl. And I wouldn’t work for you, no matter what you paid. And I may not be able, to change the whole fucking world, but I can be the million, that you never made. You are looking at the million that you’ll never make. Ani DiFranco

You said it was Labor day and so many are out of work. And what a weird labor day it will be. I agreed.

Writing to you has finally helped me clear a space to listen to what my heart wants to say around our economy. Thank you for provoking me into action! For causing me to dig deeper and find out how I really feel.

Finding Language on Labor Day

I have not been able to find my language around this economic conversation until writing you, which has made it almost impossible for me to talk about it to you and to others. I have been fence sitting again, not committing one way or another. And frankly avoiding the topic. Well, no more!

What I am choosing to live during our economic times is a :”Procession” which is from the latin meaning to ‘move forward’. And in the Church, the Holy Spirit moves by way of Procession. And in the dictionary, it is a number of people moving forward in an orderly fashion.  I like it.  I shall make my choices in accordance with the medicine procession brings.

The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes,
but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker. Helen Keller

Since I have found my language – I have also found the way that I shall be about this – in my writing, in my teaching, in my conversation –
I shall be having a Processional experience. I shall not turn back, move back or even look back in regret. Yes we need to learn from our mistakes, create and read the directions based on the evidence, then move forward!

You asked about my art, and before I could answer, you told me you didn’t imagine that selling art was doing so good, because it is not needed during this time, because it is a non-essential to many households. I don’t think you meant to be mean, but that was a loaded sentence! You were trying to make me come over your view,  and now I am trying to win you to mine!

I shall embrace my my art, life, my labor, your labor, and yes, OUR ECONOMY! What is the alternative? I can easily turn to blame and anger about how we got here, but frankly, I am motivated by how I might ease suffering, and not at all motivated by pointing fingers. We all have roles, and they are not all the same. The poets and the artists must continue to interpret reality through our creative lens – just as the marchers must march and whistle blowers must blow and the fence sitters must sit. Well…perhaps the fence sitters should get down now, and pick up a shovel and dig a tunnel underneath that non-committal, however eloquent, outpost. We have work to do.  And so I jumped down.

In the first proposal for Labor Day, which the United States celebrated for the first time in 1882, the following was included in the outline:

A street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,
” followed by a festval for the workers and their families.

Sounds like a Procession to me.  Will you join me in a Procession? What will your way of being be? If we do not choose, the media will continue to define the conversation and give us the language they want to give us in order to frame it the way that works best for a handful of powerful folks, who are frankly not committed to saving the honey bee and the whale, no matter the cost to their grandchildren.

I know this is what you are so mad about. I hear you. My call to creativity is not intended to be cavalier, I really mean, that art does save lives and our world does need to artists to continue to create. It is hard to explain if you don’t experience directly. But I really feel that the artists are holding the world together with the rest of those who pray in all forms, for peace on earth.

You asked about how my painting process was going, because you know how affected I am by the state of the world, and how my work reflects my own views – and how the suffering of others informs my work.

Creating Abundance and Choosing to Be Creative

I shall PROCEED with the work creator has given me to do as my service. I shall not panic and stray off course or listen to those who say artists and poets must now get normal jobs.  One time in a painting process I dedicated to the intention of creating abundance, I asked the painting of Virgin Mary, as is my custom to converse directly with my work, How do I create more abundance? Her one-liner reply has stuck with me for years:

By creating more abundance

You asked about my workshops, and while I admitted that some were not as full as they used to be, I told you that they are going better than ever! This was not what you expected to hear, but I did hear you breathe a sigh of relief. It was almost as if, at first you wanted me to join your dark mood, but then were relieved that I would not. And I shared with you about how much value my students were getting out of using art for healing and transformation.

As you well know, that is part of the work I do in my painting courses, to offer folks the tools to use creativity as a sacred practice, so that they have access to the inner realms, other ways to think about life, visionary doorways, and ways to experience self induced joy. Here is a quote from a letter I just got from one of my on-line mentorship students in Leading A Legendary Life. Earlier in the letter she shared about stopping painting a year ago because she felt she was wasting her time since she lacked the skills to make it look how she wanted it to look. In my courses, it is about learning new ways of seeing, yes, along with techniques, but so much more than that – that WE get to choose creating a space of joy for ourselves no matter what else is going on around us.

“I am having the experience of a lifetime with the painting!  I put it right up there with marrying my husband and having my children…seriously!  It is that important to me. I turned 48 a couple days ago and spent my entire b-day painting.  It was lovely and incredible!  I felt so happy all day, and am still in this awe-filled state of disbelief that I am in such a different place one year later!  This is some wonderful combination of Divinity and Magic you’re working here, and I LOVE BEING PART OF IT!!!”

You said, finally, that you were happy that I was staying the course – your voice got lighter and you asked me then, what was I doing to contribute to the healing of our economy. Now that is a question I can answer, although at the time I didn’t tell you because I wanted to get off the phone. Do you know how exhausting gloom is for the other person? That being said, here is the kind of thing I am doing.

Being Generous Anyhow

I am finding myself wanting to give more.  Once I got clear on the choice that I was going to choose to embrace our economy, I wanted to give something to others to support them in making positive choices and changes during these challenging times. So I started a free 30 day program called !SPARK! for our Cosmic Cowgirl membership, in which each person is invited to choose a DESIRE they want to work on for 30 days. I send out practices, quotes, encouraging letters and ideas, and they reply with set lists each day of what they are committed to creating that DAY regarding their Focus Desire.  Thirty women signed up in less than 48 hours. This is my way of taking action on our Economy, to offer the gift of what I have, to others. That is how I ward off fear, and embrace possibility – through serving others.  By being generous anyhow.

Before we said goodbye – you couldn’t help yourself, you had to ask directly about my income and my plans. I said there was never a time in the world when it was appropriate to ask someone about their money – including now. And I caught myself doing the same thing with others – it feels akin to gossip somehow, even though it is just between two folks. It seems people are having a hard time not telling about the hard and good times of others in their lives right now – as if we have some giant permission slip to talk about other people’s money because we are in a “recession”. We don’t. And I won’t be asking folks about it no more, if they want to volunteer, I will listen. I want to know about their visions, not about their waxing and waning pocketbooks.

I have felt the shift in economic times, as have most of the folks in my immediate circle. And after very conscious and careful evaluation – we have chosen to be creative about it as long as we can – and to continue in our vision of wellness for the world. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? In many of my streams there is more abundant flow than ever, while others are certainly more dry than we are used to. But who is to say it is not in divine order? What if it is? What if this is somehow for the best? I think so. We had to wake up and so we are. But we must remain watchful and mindful to think our own thoughts as it is so easy to put other people’s ill intentioned sentences into our own mouth. The truth is that I have made my living as an independent artist and entrepreneur for over ten years – and that is not going to change, even if I change my strategy, and which stream I turn my attention to.

Often when scarcity is being promoted, we constrict. My community is choosing together, to expand. To proceed. To be generous anyhow. To value what is truly important. To take heart, and continue in courage. I aint saying it is easy – and it certainly fluctuates for me, moment to moment. But the fabric of my decision to remain positive and abundant is what is underneath everything else, holding space for possibility.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
Helen Keller

I am getting really excited for our Annual Visionary Conference: Bountiful, which is designed to share tools about how to thrive during challenging times. How to be BOUNTIFUL even if we fell pitiful. This is something we can gather strength from in community!  Let’s surprise ourselves and the world with how we navigate our current times. What is the alternative to choosing “happiness anyway”? Those who are gathering to create BOUNTIFUL are all a part of creating a conversation that is a blessing, an encouragement to those who will gather with us this October. We believe that if folks have practices and tools for creativity – they will be able to navigate their lives from power no matter what the circumstance may be. Women are calling us into circle at Bountiful, like Christine Arylo, and Mary MacDonald, Ali Weiss, Tonantzin’ Guerra, Sue Sellars, Dori Etter, Lavender Grace, Kwamboka Okari,  and Alice Walker. And of course, yours truly! Will you join us?

You told me you might not come to Bounitful again this year, and when I asked you why, you said because you felt badly that you did not do what you committed to doing last year – and you were embarassed. I told you no one remembered but you – but that the conversation we have at Cosmic Cowgirls is not really about results, but about being in conversation about what is possible for our lives. Not getting it right or getting it done, but about knowing we want to. You felt relieved.

Our work is the work of Revolution, which according to Webster is: a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it. Revolution is rooted in the hope that change is possible through how we show up and what we stand for – let us continue on in a Processional Revolution and pay attention to what truly matters as the unraveling and knitting back together process continues. Will you join me?

Thank you for sharing your troubled heart with me, and for considering my words herein. I love you and cherish you and hope and pray you will find a way to be with these changes in a way that is a blessing. I believe that is possible – and I believe in you.  At the end of our call you asked me what you could do…and so I have a few ideas shared below…of course.

We can proceed in faith. No matter what it looks like. We cannot despair. The world needs our laughter. The world needs our songs. The world needs our possibilities. And I need your friendship.  We don’t need to know what it is going to look like to have faith. Somehow, somewhere I do trust, that the Creator has us all in the palm of her hand. We think it should look different than it does – in order to say God has it under control – but we have no idea what is really happening at a Cosmic level. That being said, what are our choices for moving forward? I hope you choose Joy. I want you to know, what you have to say and share is important and needed, and I hope this letter sparks something in you – the way your conversation sparked something in me. We’ve been through a lot together, and we will make it through this one too!

I shall now take up my paintbrush and drum, and go dancing out into the streets, singing of hope. Of love. Of Justice. Of moving forward. Onward! This is just one artist’s view on navigating our economy with grace.

Truly Yours,

Shiloh

Click on the image to see more of my work.

Click on the image to see more of my work.

“Hard times require furious dancing” Alice Walker.

The Procession: Ideas for staying positive and connected during challenging times.

  • Call a circle of your close friends and family and choose a topic which allows the “economy” to be discussed.
    Create an action plan, or vision plan for you own life, and stay your own course.
    Commit to meditation, creativity and prayer on a daily basis.
    Choose what your own stand is going to be when folks ask YOU about the economy.
    Honor what you do have, be grateful for it every day.
    Have a pedicure party, invite your girlfriends’ and agree not to talk about anything that is not pleasurable.
    Write a letter to God.
    Create an abundance altar. Keep it fresh. Choose not to move in fear, even when there is not enough.
    Plan for the best, and plan also for the hard times but without despair.
    Choose non-reactivity as a way of being.
    Don’t buy into other folks negative conversations, create your own language.
    Choose to keep loving yourself through all of it.
    Let love be at the center of all choices.

Procession Meditation:

Materials: one fresh flower, bowl, water, pen, paper
First get clear on what thoughts you have been holding about our economy. Think them. Write them.
Take a bowl of water, and speak your previous ideas into the water. Honor your previous views. Water a plant with the water outside.
Take the empty bowl and hold it while you think about how you want to be during this time. Who are you going to be?
Then choose a new way to be about our economy and rephrase your view in a way that actually feels good to you. Write it down.
Fill the bowl with water and put it on your altar with your new affirmations about your views. Float the flower on top of it, which
represents you – being buoyed by your new thoughts. Say your affirmations as often as you need to.

Procession means to move forward – to be processional is to move forward together in an orderly fashion- anyone who takes responsibility for being positive about their view, is being processional and moving us all towards a more peaceful world.

In closing: This explorative writing on our economy is in honor of the members of SPARK who co-labor with me to bring transformation into our lives one day, one minute, one list item at a time. The letter was written as a reply not just to one friend, but to a handful of friends I did speak with or hear from who did ask me these kinds of questions, and for which I did not have a reply I felt good about. So I put it all into one conversation for the purpose of sharing this writing.